All too often, middle and high school girls sit in classrooms, particularly math and science classrooms, afraid to raise their hands and ask questions. Why? Perhaps their crush is across the room, so they don’t want to seem ‘dumb.’ Perhaps the popular girl is sitting next to them, so they don’t want to appear nerdy or uncool. Perhaps they don’t think they’re smart enough, so they don’t want to embarrass themselves. So they sit. Confused. Fearful. Defeated. Opportunities pass, and their confusion often compounds and spirals out of control, leaving them with contempt for the subject. Almost before girls have a fighting chance, fear has the potential to snatch could-be STEM Gems’ promising futures.
This was me in Mrs. Fortune’s sixth-grade math class. My middle school crush Rico made my knees wobble and words slur; and therefore, at times, I was too embarrassed to speak up. It was me in Professor Swartz’s physics class at MIT because I didn’t want the other students to think I didn’t belong. It was me in graduate school at UC Berkeley because I was the only black woman in my classes, and I didn’t want my peers to know when I struggled. This confused, fearful, and defeated person has been me, more times than I can count. Chances are, it’s been you, too.
An equally important factor that comes into play for most girls beginning in middle school, and definitely in college and graduate school, is the lack of community, support, and encouragement that girls need to pursue male-dominated STEM careers such as mechanical engineering, physics, or computer science. Luckily for me, I had a strong, supportive community in college. Not only did I have an awesome dean who was like a second mother to me, I also found community in groups such as the MIT Black Women’s Alliance, the National Society of Black Engineers, and the Society of Women Engineers. Support and community are imperative, both in choosing a STEM career and staying there.
I wrote STEM Gems: How 44 Women Shine in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, And How You Can Too! to expose girls and young women to a diversity of STEM careers, to give them female role models in STEM, and to help them create their own unique paths. Because of my pervasive quest to help close the gender gap in STEM careers, girls who succumb to less than their potential haunt me. According to the most recent NSF statistics, women and minorities are still woefully underrepresented in a wide variety of STEM fields.
“Despite increases in the numbers of women earning degrees in mathematics and statistics since 2004, the proportion of women has declined at the bachelor’s and master’s levels.” The report states that “although the number of women earning degrees in engineering has increased in the past 20 years, women’s participation remains well below that of men at all degree levels and in all fine fields of engineering.” And, perhaps most distressing of all, the outlook in computer science: “In the past 10 years, both the number and proportion of computer sciences bachelor’s degrees earned by women has declined.”
The underrepresentation of women in STEM is enough to make any woman (or man) want to storm those early STEM classrooms and begin a rousing chant of empowerment to carry girls from early-grade science fair projects all the way through the isolation of their advanced degrees, from their first solved algebraic equation to lone representations of their gender on the International Space Station. Those of us who are passionate about gender and minority equality in STEM cannot sit beside each girl and young woman—each a potential STEM Gem—in every classroom and in every field of study, but we still have the capacity to stand united.
Hence, the STEM Gems Empowerment Bracelet.
Throughout human history, bracelets have been worn to communicate messages—wealth, power, privilege, spirituality, causality. The time has come for a bracelet to symbolize a brighter, fearless future for every single girl with even an ounce of STEM-studded dreams.
The STEM Gems Empowerment Bracelet is the symbolic reminder I wish I’d had when I got a less-than-perfect score on a math test, when I struggled through my intro physics class in college, when I was too afraid to speak up out of fear of being judged by my peers, and when I was the only female in my work environment and the imposter syndrome settled in. It’s a symbol to pull up a chair and take a seat at the table because we belong and we’re necessary. When girls and young women find themselves in classrooms and labs and offices with few others of the same gender or race, the STEM Gems Empowerment Bracelet is a shimmering, supportive nudge to be confident, to raise their hand, to speak out, to speak up, to know that they are valued and never alone.
Think of it as a super power bracelet—a beautiful and indelible symbol of unity and support, no matter the challenge or obstacle.
The bracelet comes with a note of encouragement that says:
Welcome to the STEM Gems tribe! A symbol of confidence, courage, and community, the STEM Gems Empowerment Bracelet is a reminder that girls rock in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Wear your bracelet proudly, and know that you will never be alone in your pursuit of greatness.
Work hard. Be brave. Stay curious. Be a Gem!
Join the STEM Gems Movement! Order the STEM Gems Book and Empowerment Bracelet today for the girls and young women in your life!
*National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2017. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2017. Special Report NSF 17-310. Arlington, VA. Available at www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/.